There is an old saying about the two happiest days of a man’s life: the day he buys a boat and the day he sells it. I would never say that owning a boat isn’t without challenges, but I believe the rewards far outweigh the troubles. I’ve got nothing against shore or wader fishing, and I do both many times in a season; however, I always prefer to be in a boat.
I come by my love for boats genetically. There are many fishermen in my family history. I have an old article from the Yankton Press & Dakotan about a barge that my great grandfather built to traverse the Missouri River before the dams were built. It was fabricated on steel drums and had a heated cabin with trap doors for fishing during cold weather. I never got to see his barge, but my great aunts and uncles have many stories to tell about it.
My grandpa was also a boat owner. I have incredible memories of fishing with him. He said the best thing about a boat is that, while traveling up and down the river, everyone waves. He believed in a comradery among boat owners. The same guy may not give you the time of day if you meet him on the street, but in a boat you are automatically friends.
My grandpa loved to fish and philosophize about fishing. He could never understand why when he fished from shore, he always tried to fish as far as he could out into the lake, but when he was in a boat, he always tried to fish as close as he could to the shoreline. It never made sense to him.
I still remember when my dad bought his first boat. It was a red and white fiberglass boat built in the late 50’s and had a closed bow and windshield. The boat also sported fins like a Chevrolet of similar vintage. The old boat had seen better days when it arrived in our driveway, and my dad spent many hours cleaning, repairing and painting it. It wasn’t the fanciest vessel on the water, but it served a great purpose for us to cruise the lake, fish and even learn how to water ski.
Before I had a driver's license (or a car), I bought my first boat. I was thirteen years old and managed to save up $300. I bought a 14’ aluminum bass boat. It had a 15 horsepower Evinrude tiller, front and rear casting platforms and the words “Bass-Turd” painted on the side. After he got off work, my dad would drop the “Bass-Turd” off into Lake Mitchell for me. A friend and I would often fish until it was nearly dark, and then we would motor back to the boat dock for pickup. It is a great memory and hard to believe our parents would allow it.
One weekend, my friend and I entered a crappie and bluegill tournament. We mowed lawns and collected aluminum cans to pay our entry fee, buy bait and build a makeshift livewell. We managed to pull out our limit of crappies and nearly our limit of bluegills (100 of each at the time) and placed sixth. We were obviously the youngest team and received quite a lot of fanfare with our finish. A funny memory about that day is our dads’ complaining about cleaning all of those fish. For some reason, they trusted two kids to fish in a boat all day, but wouldn’t let us use knives.
Since that first boat, I’ve always owned a boat of some kind. One of my most unique boat purchases was a 1964 steel pontoon boat. Shortly after college, I rescued it from a tree grove with one damaged tube. I had a welding shop repair the tube and put her back in service. The boat was built onto the trailer, so to launch I would back the boat into the lake, disconnect the hitch from the truck, pull a pin at the front of the deck and pull up the tongue. When the tongue was raised, the wheels underneath would retract into the bottom of the deck. It was a fun boat to play around with on small bodies of water. The most fun I had was at registration each year. The county courthouse always had a hard time understanding how with one title it could be a boat and a trailer and required two different types of licenses — one for traveling down the road and one for traveling across a lake. They were quite happy when I sold that boat, and it moved to another county.
I even took a stab at boat building. In 2011, most of my favorite duck hunting spots were way too deep for waders, and I decided to build a small duck boat. I found plans online and built a small plywood and fiberglass duck boat to hold the dog and me. During that process, I learned a lot about boat design and construction. There is no way I’m ready to build a power boat, but my little duck boat works well. This was one of those projects that, once completed, I couldn’t believe I had actually built a boat, and it floated, and it still floats!
Launching my current boat still brings as much excitement as it did when I was a kid. The smell of the lake and two-cycle oil still brings back memories of my youth and the time I’ve spent fishing with family and friends. If you own a boat long enough, something is bound to go wrong. Motors break down, electrical systems fail; you may develop a leak. Boats do require a fair amount of money and time to maintain. I plan to own a boat until I’m an old man and know that the day I sell my boat won’t be one of my happiest.
Reprinted from The Outdoormen Magazine
You can reach Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org